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Pandemic puts Port Alberni hockey player's career on hold at Harvard

Every athlete who has had their dreams put on hold — which is pretty much all of them beneath the major-pro level — has a story to tell. Only a few of those tales, however, extend to a world top-10 academic institution. “It is surreal at Harvard.
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Hockey player Maryna Macdonald of Port Alberni, who is a student at Harvard.

Every athlete who has had their dreams put on hold — which is pretty much all of them beneath the major-pro level — has a story to tell. Only a few of those tales, however, extend to a world top-10 academic institution.

“It is surreal at Harvard. There are things happening, day and night,” said Maryna Macdonald of Port Alberni. She found it an invigorating environment. Or it was until COVID‑19 hit. That has thrown ­Macdonald’s plans into disarray as she looks to a to-be-determined junior NCAA women’s hockey season with the Crimson. “It’s been a whirlwind, not really knowing what’s happening next, so you just have to be patient while everything is on pause,” said Macdonald.

She is majoring in environmental science and public policy at the prestigious university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but has remained on the Island due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Some are predicting a return to hockey below the NHL level at some point in 2020-21. The Victoria Royals and Western Hockey League have targeted Dec. 4 as a potential season start date and the five Island teams in the B.C. Hockey League a pre-season start on Oct. 2 with the regular season on Dec. 1. The Ivy League, which includes Harvard, says it will not start hockey until at least Jan. 1.

Nobody knows for sure how the pandemic timeline will play out for sports. If there is no NCAA season, players will not lose a season of eligibility. But for the likes of Macdonald’s fellow-Islander Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, it’s too late. Captain and senior Zandee-Hart’s dreams of an NCAA championship with top-ranked Cornell were crushed over the spring by COVID-19. Because the 2019-20 regular season was mostly complete when abruptly cancelled, players will not get that year back. That includes Zandee-Hart, who is projected for the Canadian team to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The national team, meanwhile, has inspired Macdonald. “I was in my second year of playing hockey as a kid when I watched the 2010 Winter Olympics and that was a real eye-opener — especially happening so close to home — and it confirmed for me this is the sport I want to play,” said Macdonald.

She became very good at it in the Port Alberni minor hockey association and then with the Island Seals of the B.C. Girls’ Major Midget Triple-A League. At the representative level, Macdonald won bronze medals with the B.C. provincial team at the 2016 and 2017 Canadian U-18 championships, and caught the attention of Harvard as early as Grade 10. Her excellent grades didn’t hurt, either, and she is planning on law school after pursuing a pro-hockey career.

“I’m an all-round defenceman, who likes to jump up into the play, and am very offensive,” said Macdonald, twice the leading scorer among blueliners in the B.C. Triple-A Major Midget League. She had three goals and 12 points in 32 games as a sophomore when the 2019-20 NCAA season was scrubbed in March, and had two goals and 11 points in 30 games in 2018-19, while also showing her early composure with a plus-three rating as a freshman.

Macdonald attended Alberni District Secondary, winning the top academic award in 2016, and was an all-rounder in sports, qualifying for the B.C. high school track and field championships in the 4x100 and 4x400-metre relays and javelin and shot put. She switched to Shawnigan Lake School in Grade 12 to play at that institution’s hockey academy. “I’m always pushing myself to get better,” said Macdonald, who was born and raised to age eight in Bamfield.

Pressed for a blueliner she emulates, Macdonald mentioned P.K. Subban, and added with a chuckle: “I can get chippy sometimes.”

Unable to be in Cambridge at the moment, Macdonald is making use of the down time helping out by coaching in girls’ hockey camps in Port Alberni. “Female hockey is growing on the Island and I want to support that when and where I can to keep it growing,” she said.

“There were only two or three girls playing when I was coming up and there are many more in the camps now in Port Alberni.”

Macdonald is of Scottish ancestry on her dad’s side and a member of the Ditidaht First Nation on her mom’s and won a bronze medal with Indigenous Team B.C. at the 2017 national aboriginal championships.

“I want to support Indigenous sport, and women’s hockey overall, in any way I can,” she said.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com